I’ve been wondering about how we mirror our inner environment, our thoughts, our relationships. We often believe that our appearance is neutral in the sense that we can dress it up or down and make it reflect whatever mood we wish. But it doesn’t necessarily work like that.
There is an energy within that isn’t so easily masked, that seeps through, no matter how thick the make up or how loud the laugh. When we are all about adding to the external – even changing diets or spending hours at the gym – the inside makes itself known. Perhaps we harbor some belief that by shifting the outer skin, that change will penetrate deep into our inner recesses and transform what lies there.
I’ve noticed during my travels on the New York City subway that no one smiles. Sometimes kids or babies do, but adults, no. Even abiding by the rules of subway etiquette, not making eye contact, one can see that the faces all seem to carry some degree of worry or tension. I would even guess that most thoughts behind those expressions have to do with what lies ahead that day or what happened earlier. You simply don’t see a look of contentment or satisfaction anywhere, let alone a hint of a smile.
I recall what riding the NYC subway was like in the late 60’s or early 70’s. You had to be alert to who was around you and what was happening as a way of protecting yourself and staying safe. But there is much less crime now allowing for a more relaxed atmosphere. And still no one smiles.
I’m not expecting wild grinning or raucous laughter, but what would it take to reflect more of an inner peace rather than tension or worry? I recently brought my metta (lovingkindness) practice into the NYC subway. So now I sit (or stand) and wish for everyone in the subway car to be happy, to be healthy, to be free from harm and to live with ease. I wish this over and over again while I ride the train. I realize that wishing doesn’t make it so, and the practice might seem simplistic, however, something interesting happened while I was practicing metta.
Here’s what I noticed: I wasn’t making judgments about any of the people around me. I wasn’t thinking about what I had to do the rest of the day. I wasn’t preoccupied with what had happened the day, week or month before. I wasn’t berating myself for not having done whatever I should have done or said. I wasn’t thinking about how I looked or felt. I was peaceful and the suggestion of a smile was spreading from the inside out.
I realized that all the while I had been wondering why no one was smiling, I wasn’t smiling either.